May 26 was supposed to be a big night in mixed martial arts. A huge, hefty, ample, gigantic, colossal night.
But then the most immense of the five heavyweight fights scheduled for UFC 146 had some air taken out of it when Alistair Overeem was found to have an elevated level of testosterone in testing done following a March 27 press conference to tout his challenge of champion Junior dos Santos in the card's main event. When those results were revealed last Thursday, the immediate response -- aside from UFC president Dana White retreating to a dark, windowless room and screaming for 10 minutes -- was to wonder who'll get to step into the octagon with the power-punching Brazilian belt holder next month.
It still might be Overeem, who faces an April 24 hearing in front of the Nevada State Athletic Commission to explain himself and, if he's persuasive and his story plausible, perhaps come away with a fighter's license. But in the meantime the UFC understandably will be plotting out Plan B. It's nothing new, really, for the fight promotion's matchmakers to become match re-makers. Fighters get hurt (Georges St-Pierre, to cite one of many). Fighters get caught (Overeem, apparently).
The obvious solution to fill the potential Reem-sized opening is right under the UFC's nose. Conveniently, the two fighters vying for No. 1 contender status at heavyweight are slated to meet on the same May 26 card. Cain Velasquez, who last November lost the heavyweight belt to dos Santos via a 64-second KO, is pitted against another former champion, Frank Mir. So you just go eeny-meeny-miny-moe and grab one of those guys for the title fight, right?
Not according to White, it seems. After a fan sent him a Twitter message last Friday night begging him to not break up the Mir-Velasquez fight, Dana responded, "Mir vs Cain will happen."
That sent the Twitterverse -- that is, Dana's public -- scurrying every which say, trying various scenarios on for size. None of them quite fit.
The highest-ranked fighter not already matched with a dance partner is Fabricio Werdum, but fans are still rubbing the sleep from their eyes from the Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace's somnolent loss to Overeem last June. And even though that's the only defeat among Werdum's last five bouts, three-and-a-half years ago Dos Santos needed barely more than a minute to knock him out so brutally it sent Fabricio careening out of the UFC.
After Werdum, you've got Shane Carwin and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, but both are injured, the latter courtesy of a bone-breaking Mir kimura. And then there are Josh Barnett and Daniel Cormier, but they're scheduled to meet May 19 in the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix final. If the UFC isn't willing to break up Velasquez vs. Mir, why would it mess with this tournament finale? Cormier would be an attraction, perhaps, as an undefeated former Olympian. But forget about Barnett, the only fighter to fail three drug tests. Dana White has lived in Vegas long enough to know not to touch those odds.
Who's left, then? I'll tell you who. No, let's allow Twitter to tell you. Go there and punch in the hashtag #RallyForMarkHunt and start reading. And reading and reading. It turns out that a whole lot of fans are advocating for the shot at dos Santos' belt to go to Mark Hunt. Really? Really. When I first caught wind of the campaign, I assumed that these people were making all of this noise with tongue in cheek. Some surely are. Amazingly, some are not.
I understand the thinking, I suppose. Dos Santos relies on his striking, so why not put him in with the most decorated heavyweight striker available?
But let's step back and examine this premise more closely. First, while Overeem is the reigning K-1 World Grand Prix champion, Hunt's reign in the elite kickboxing tournament came way back to 2001. The guy has fought exactly one K-1 match since 2003. True, Hunt has probably forgotten more about striking than dos Santos will ever know. But at age 38, the New Zealander is even farther over the hill than James Toney was when the former world champion boxer stepped into the octagon with Randy Couture two summers ago.
Sure, you could explode that analogy by noting that while Toney had never competed in anything but a boxing ring prior to the Couture mismatch, Hunt has 15 MMA bouts under his belt and is in fact on a three-fight winning streak. However, the New Zealander's revitalizing little run -- which followed six straight losses -- has come against a murderer's row of Chris Tuchscherer (1-3 in the UFC), Ben Rothwell (two wins in his last five bouts) and Cheick Kongo (the best of the lot, but nonetheless a winner in just three of his last seven fights).
The Kongo KO put Hunt's MMA record at 8-7. He's simply not a Top 10 heavyweight. To stick him in with dos Santos would be telling the world that your fight organization has no qualifying criteria for earning a title shot. Yes, the UFC once gave Brock Lesnar a chance at the belt when he was a mere 1-1 with the promotion. That was wrongheaded, too, even though Lesnar became champion that night back in 2008 and reigned with a vengeance for two years, during which he became the pay-per-view cash cow the UFC no doubt envisioned when it prematurely handed him a title shot. Hunt isn't going to sell many PPVs, but you could argue that from a competitive standpoint, his granite fists have a chance to put out Junior's lights.
I know a lot of bloodthirsty fans would enjoy watching to see whether, against all odds, Hunt could actually make that happen. But while I hate to be The Grinch That Stole Memorial Day Weekend, I must point out that it simply wouldn't be legitimate for the UFC to put a fighter with Hunt's mediocre MMA resume at the head of the line.
OK, then. Whom should dos Santos fight if Overeem is deemed dirty? Well, let's go back to where we started. What was it Dana White said about the co-main event? He said, simply, that Velasquez vs. Mir "will happen." He didn't say when. And even if he had, c'mon, the UFC poobah's word has never exactly been gospel. Just ask Anthony Pettis, who was promised a lightweight title shot back in 2010 and is still waiting. Dana needs to choose either Mir or Velasquez for the title fight -- and make the other guy the guaranteed No. 1 contender -- if he wants the UFC belt to stand for something.
I'd give Velasquez the rematch. It wasn't like he was dominated for five rounds or beaten to a pulp last November. He simply got caught early by a big Dos Santos right hand, and that was that. Prior to that, Cain was undefeated and had knocked out eight of his nine victims, six of them in the first round. I'd like to see him step in again with dos Santos more than I'd want to see Junior fight Mir. Frank has won three straight, most recently the brutal submission of "Big Nog." But as a standup fighter, he doesn't have the hand speed to hang with dos Santos. Junior would likely crumble him just as Carwin did.
But I'll settle for Mir vs. dos Santos, if the UFC ends up needing a replacement for "The Reem" and that's the best matchup Dana & Co. can swing. Just don't try to sell me anything less than that and call it a heavyweight championship fight.